Since Gov. Bill Walker was inaugurated, he and the Legislature’s Republican leadership have traded reams of angry letters and testy press releases. Now, their paper battle has escalated into outright hostility in press conferences. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is on the line to talk about the disagreements over a proposed natural gas line.
What triggered this dispute?
Shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday, members of the House’s Republican leadership dropped a bill that would put constraints on the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline — which a lot of people think of as the “little” gasline. ASAP had been conceived as a backup plan to AKLNG project, which would be the natural gas equivalent of the TransAlaska pipeline and involve the state partnering as a minority player with Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, and TransCanada to get it built. That project would cost at least $45 billion, and move North Slope natural gas to Asian consumers.
But in February, the Governor announced via an op-ed in the Alaska Dispatch News that he was going to turn the little line into a big line, too. With that vision, ASAP would be a massive export project like AKLNG, but with the state positioned to take a majority share — something that’s been a priority for the governor, but met with some skepticism from the Legislature because of the risk and cost of taking that position.
The bill introduced in the Alaska House of Representatives would stop that plan dead. It puts limits on how much natural gas the ASAP project could transfer for export, and effectively puts a cap on how big the project would be. The legislators behind it say the purpose is to demonstrate that Alaska is not pursuing two competing projects at the same time, something they believe could jeopardize the AKLNG project.
How did the governor react?
Within two hours of the bill being introduced, the governor called a press conference in response . Let’s just say Gov. Walker was not amused.
WALKER: This is why I ran for governor. This is why we don’t have a gasline today. Because we refuse to stand up for ourselves.
Walker held up a marked up version of the bill, with scrawled underlines and exclamation points, and called it an “outrage.” He also questioned the motives of the five bill sponsors — House Speaker Mike Chenault, Rules Chair Craig Johnson, Majority Leader Charisse Millett, Majority Whip Bob Herron, and Rep. Mike Hawker.
WALKER: I’m shocked that it got this many sponsors. I really question who these people work for. They’re certainly not reading the same Constitution I’m reading.
Walker said it would take away the state’s negotiating power if it could only pursue one option, and proceeded to call the bill “unalaskan.”
What do the bill sponsors think of his reaction?
While the legislators certainly got a rise out of the governor, they said that was not their intent. Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican, said it should not surprise the governor that legislators introduce legislation when there are policy disagreements with the executive.
Hawker: We get to introduce a bill. We put it in committee. And we invite the governor and his people to come and talk to us about our concerns in a very open and transparent public forum. And that’s all it was today. We introduced a bill to advance the discussion to try to identify, understand, and discuss with this administration what this new competing plan is. And with all respect, the governor obviously he just was incredibly agitated today. It looked to me he was up there shaking in front of that press conference.
The sponsors were offended by some of Walker’s statements. Majority Leader Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican, said she felt the governor impugned their motives.
MILLETT: It doesn’t help the conversation. It doesn’t help the relationship. You know, we have a policy where we would like to include the governor in all of our conversations.We welcome him. We welcome his input. We have reached out to him. We have been up to his office. We have tried to communicate with him. We stand ready to work with the governor.
So, what happens to the bill now?
In a way, this is kind of like the Legislature poking the bear. While some of the sponsors said they did not expect Walker to react the way he did, it’s really not that shocking that the governor would oppose a bill that’s meant to torpedo his new gasline plan.
But in the end, as governor, Walker is still the bear. He said the bill was dead on arrival.
WALKER: I would veto this in a minute.
So, even though the bill will be heard and go through the process, the substance of the legislation almost doesn’t matter at all. It’s just another way where these two competing powers can promote their two competing visions for a gasline.
This isn’t the only time the Republican leadership and the governor have clashed. Where does their relationship go from here?
You’re right. Last week, the House Finance committee removed a line accepting Medicaid expansion out of its budget, which Walker had described as a major priority of his on the campaign trail.
While both camps have said they are willing to work with the other, neither party said they would be the one to reach out and ask for meetings.